Making Drone Pilots’ Lives Easier: Automating Flight Approvals

“DroneDeploy and Airbus UTM give us an easy in-app way to obtain automated authorizations. I like that I have the consistency with DroneDeploy, and everything is in one place.” James Blair, Project Assistant Superintendent, McCarthy Building

On July 21, DroneDeploy announced that Airbus UTM’s flight management, safety and regulatory compliance services are now directly integrated on their platform. This enables drone pilots to seamlessly access preflight safety briefings, digital flight authorizations and compliance data all within one application in seconds. Airbus UTM’s Joe Polastre gives us the low down on why this matters, and why Airbus is working diligently in this space.

How long has Airbus UTM been partnering with DroneDeploy?

Our working relationship with DroneDeploy dates back over a year now, but we publicly announced our work at DroneDeploy’s conference last September. We began testing in early 2020 and we’ve been gradually rolling our services out to more users through July. This integration allows commercial drone pilots to have a seamless experience to plan, review, conduct their flights and unlock controlled airspace near airports. It’s been very gratifying to bring this to fruition.

What change does this represent as to how approvals were previously gained?

Historically, drone pilots had to open up a separate app, re-input all flight details, and secure authorization. After doing so, none of that info was sent back into the DroneDeploy app when a pilot actually went out to fly.

With this integration, pilots can open DroneDeploy and stay in the DroneDeploy app to get their authorization, and then authorization information is available within DroneDeploy when they go fly (or for compliance).

This is quicker, less error prone and better for auditing compliance. It’s also better meeting the experience expectations of today’s drone pilots.

What does this mean for turn-around times for approval?

Typically approvals are granted in seconds using the automatic Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) approval. Some approvals require manual review by the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization and can take from a few hours up to 90 days.

Where do you currently offer the service? Any plans to further extend to more locations?

Our services are now offered at all airports participating in LAANC in the United States. That said, we are always looking to expand airspace awareness, safety and automatic authorizations to fly in new geographies.

How does the LAANC service further Airbus’ goal of modernizing air traffic management as we know it?

The volume of work that we’re doing is enabling us to get a much better real-world understanding of how the airspace is being used so we can safely integrate more types of aircraft into the shared airspace of the future. At a high level, this work is a stepping stone on the path to UTM, which digitizes air traffic services, not only for drones but also for commercial aircraft and urban air mobility (UAM). That is the big picture that Airbus is pushing towards, but we must take the necessary intermediate steps to ensure high levels of safety in our airspace.

What’s next on the horizon?

We’re busy working on remote identification of UAS and deconfliction of unmanned aircraft through the ASTM UTM working group, which works to develop international standards. We’re also working on combining services to permit more automated flight operations, such as for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and UAM flights. It’s an exciting time to be building the future of flight.